‘We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.’ Those were the words of the American biologist E O Wilson at the turn of the century.
In the 1990s, a psychologist named Martin Seligman led the positive psychology movement, which placed the study of human happiness squarely at the center of psychology research and theory. It continued a trend that began in the 1960s with humanistic and existential psychology, which emphasized the importance of reaching one’s innate potential and creating meaning in one’s life, respectively.
Have you ever felt awe and exhilaration while contemplating a vista of jagged, snow-capped mountains? Or been fascinated but also a bit unsettled while beholding a thunderous waterfall such as Niagara? Or felt existentially insignificant but strangely exalted while gazing up at the clear, starry night sky? If so, then you’ve had an experience of what philosophers from the mid-18th century to the present call the sublime. It is an aesthetic experience that modern, Western philosophers often theorise about, as well as, more recently, experimental psychologists and neuroscientists in the field of neuroaesthetics.
What is American “philosophy” nowadays? Does our culture end at commercialism, video games, Netflix and the NFL? In a recent article – “What Happened to Philosophy in America?” – Michael Sutherland seems to think so. He claims philosophical thinking is in short supply in the land of the free (land of the distracted is more like it).
We’d all like to be a little happier.
The problem is that much of what determines happiness is outside of our control. Some of us are genetically predisposed to see the world through rose-colored glasses, while others have a generally negative outlook. Bad things happen, to us and in the world. People can be unkind, and jobs can be tedious.